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    Spot.Us Has Success and Failure in the Same Week

    by David Cohn
    January 28, 2009

    Spot.Us has just had one of its most exciting weeks chalk full of successes and failures.

    The most interesting lesson is related to the Oscar Grant shooting
    in Oakland California. It is a tragic event that occurred where a Bart
    police officer shot and killed a young man. The entire event, caught on
    camera, has touched on deep seeded issues of class and racism in
    Oakland. Subsequent protests turned into civil unrest and the city of
    Oakland continues to deal with the emotional aftershocks. All this came
    just four days after we had successfully funded an investigation into
    the Oakland Police department.

    With a specific call to action the Spot.Us platform performed beautifully.

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    • An independent journalist uploaded a pitch: a description of the work he wanted to do.

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    • Internet leaders passionate about the story spread the word and donated.
    • The Spot.Us team did some pre-reporting to show that indeed – this is an important topic that can benefit from deep story-telling
    • An independent news organization put up 50% of the cost for the story
      and will in exchange publish the content first and we will link to
      them. So the finished content gets seen by more people and the initial
      donors are validated in their early support.

    Those four steps allowed us to fund the Oscar Grant short documentary in 11 days.

    This week we also started reporting on

    • The affordability of solar power for Bay Area homeowners.

    • The impact of the recession on small SF business owners.

    But – as noted in the title, we’ve had some failures as well. I
    don’t take these as a bad sign – in fact, if we didn’t stumble along
    the way we wouldn’t learn. And indeed we are learning with every single
    pitch on Spot.Us.

    This week we took down two pitches because they simply didn’t get
    enough donations. A third came down because of a reporter’s health.

    The two pitches that were taken down were going to examine:

    • How prepared the city of Oakland is for an earthquake.

    • Where Bay Area neighborhoods get their electricity.

    Both were great story ideas, but for some reason didn’t connect with
    potential donors/readers. We simply couldn’t get the traction for them.
    One thought is that they were both too broad. I suppose that is the
    classic problem in preparing for an earthquake. It will affect
    everybody – but nobody thinks it’ll happen to them.

    We are learning more and more how to present pitches to garner public support.

    We’ve also started making some decisions that originally I wanted to
    avoid. I often refer to spot.us as a platform not a news organization –
    and while I stay committed to that notion – in the future we are going
    to make more editorial decisions about what pitches we will and won’t
    take on. We are going to hold reporters responsible for certain actions
    and we will strongly suggest pricing for their work. We’ve begun to do
    this in public with the Spot.Us Reporter Agreement and pricing.

    Spot.Us has also recently hired a community organizer Kara Andrade
    who is helping take our mission offline – to the neighborhood
    associations, to the PTA, nonprofits, etc. I think this is a part of
    Spot.Us that will be absolutely crucial for our development.

    And out development continues. The web application continues to
    improve. I’m hoping that by the end of March or early April the code
    will be in good enough shape that others could take it and start their
    own “community funded reporting” site. That will be its own post.

    There are more stories to tell, from the divide of wealth and poverty in SF to the phasing out of Oakland schools. Spot.Us has now funded 11 stories. We have five more in our system that we hope to fund.

    Come join the revolution – it takes mere seconds and as little as $5 to make a difference. For now…. ONWARD!!!

    Tagged: crowdfunding funding oakland oscar grant spot.us
    • Congratulations David on the successes and on learning from the so-called failures. It would be great if spot.us were to do a user survey some point this year or next to get a better understanding of when and why donors/investors contribute to a story. There was such a sense of built up frustration around the Oscar Peterson case … and the feeling that yet another cop was going to get away with police brutality … that I’m wondering if some of the donors put down cash as a way of trying to do something to move the situation along.

      Stories about earthquake-preparedness, however, don’t have that same sense of urgency and will likely require more “selling”. I think that hiring a community organizer to do some of this outreach work is the right move. And, as a resident of Oakland, I can’t help but be happy that so many of the stories are based here. I promise to throw down some money soon. Great work.

    • It’s great to see how things are developing. I wouldn’t consider those situations as failures but as expected setbacks. I can see you are imposing more rules ( better: guidelines) than you first expected maybe, but i feel they’re pointing into the right direction. When you plan to expand Spot.us abroad let me know. Best wishes and keep up the good work.

    • Great work, Dave. With each new initiative on Spot.us, you are learning and in the space Spot.us is in, there is ample scope for learning and growth. Cheers.

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